Machrie - Argyll & Bute - Scotland

Machrie Hotel & Golf Links,
Port Ellen,
Isle of Islay,
PA42 7AT,
Scotland


  • +44 (0)1496 302310

  • Ian Brown

  • Willie Campbell, Donald Steel

  • None

Machrie is a wonderfully nostalgic links course located on the beautiful Hebridean island of Islay, famous for its distilleries and the fabulous rich and “peaty” single malt whisky such as Laphroaig and Bruichladdich.

Do not confuse this course with the 9-hole Machrie Bay on the Isle of Arran.

This is the remotest of the remote links courses, laid out in 1891 by Willie Campbell. Donald Steel was brought in to modify Machrie in the late 1970s. “For years, the land beyond the first green was part of a layout that included a famous hole named Mount Zion, an area not for sale when new owners wanted to buy a full 18 holes.” Wrote Donald Steel in his book Classic Golf Links of Great Britain & Ireland. “New boundaries were erected and new land taken in to the north where a small river runs into the sea. It served to make Machrie more complete, more modern and more challenging. This fresh face of Machrie begins with the par five 2nd which doglegs sharply to follow the path of a fast-flowing stream that later forms one flank of a tight entrance to the green.” Amazingly, Steel has retained much of the charm and surprise of Campbell’s original design. In fact, unless you were familiar with the old Machrie, you'd never identify Steel's changes.

In 1901, James Braid overcame his well-grounded horror of the sea to compete in the Islay Open. The other two members of the “Great Triumvirate”, John H Taylor and Harry Vardon, were also there, attracted by £100, the highest prize money of that time. At the last hole, Braid had a putt to share the prize money with Taylor. According to a report in The Scotsman, Braid’s putt was deflected from “dropping” in the hole by a piece of sheep dung.

The Machrie is laid out across magnificent terrain, dominated by varied and imposing sand dunes. On a clear day, the views across Laggan Bay from the elevated parts of the course are simply breathtaking.

The most surprising aspect of the layout is that the greens are in all sorts of locations – some are raised and some are in sunken punchbowls. The amazing position of greens has virtually negated the need for bunkers and there are very few sand traps here at the Machrie. The sum of this variation makes for an enjoyable, challenging and interesting round of golf. If you do get the chance, take the opportunity to play the course more than once.

Pray for the weather to be kind. Although Islay is influenced by the Gulf Stream, the weather can be horrible and, on occasions, the course can quickly become totally unplayable. When the rain is falling sideways, we recommend a large single malt whisky next to a warming peat fire, or a trip to one of the island's numerous distilleries.

We ran a story in June 2011 about the Machrie’s change of ownership, with Gareth Davies and Sue Nye acquiring the business for around £2 million. Both the hotel and the course are being rebuilt and David J Russell was assigned to refashion the layout, upgrading the old course to improve its playability for modern golf. The new course opened for play in May 2017, but we’ll bring you a full report on how the revised Machrie looks after we revisit this iconic old favourite in September 2017.

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Reviews for Machrie

Av. Reviewers Score:
Description: Machrie is a wonderfully nostalgic links golf course located on the beautiful Hebridean island of Islay, famous for its distilleries and the fabulous rich and “peaty” single malt whisky such as Laphroaig and Bruichladdich. Rating: 5.2592592592593 out of 6

I am a 7 handicap overseas golfer with experience playing more than 400 rounds on over sixty links courses in Scotland, Ireland, England, Wales, the Isle of Man and Bandon Oregon over the last 25 years. These courses range from all the Open Rota Courses past and present, other grand Classics like Rosses Point, Carne, Waterville, Dornoch, Nairn, Machrihanish and Western Gailes, to modern links like Pacific Dunes and Castle Stuart and far flung gems like Shiskine, Durness, Rea, Scarista and Askernish. So please allow me some credit for having an informed opinion.

It is understandable that several recent reviews commend the Machrie by ASSUMING that the recent "upgrading and modernisation " changes are soundly based. Clearly they do not know what they have missed, because they have not played the old layout. I really do feel sorry that they will never know what a real gem of an old fashioned course this was and what has been lost in the process of, in my view, dumbing it down to mediocrity for the mass golf tourism market. I have played the old layout about ten times and have just played the new full modernised layout in May 2017.

There are only three good things to say about it. First the scenery and isolated position still make this a wonderful setting. The new hotel upgrade and extensions will be welcomed by most. The only good thing about the recent course changes though is that the replacement for the bland old Donald Steel par 3 10th [ new 9th ] is a much better and more attractive hole reversed in direction, with the resultant straightened fairway on the next hole an improvement, as it eliminates an internal out of bounds.

That said, the remainder of the changes are in my view entirely unnecessary, with the possible exception of the direction of the first fairway to accommodate hotel extensions. These changes eliminate almost all the blind shots which were an attractive, fun and unique feature of the course. They formerly made sure that the course did not give up all of its secrets when played for the first time. No great course ever does! However with GPS gadgets and marker stones, all holes were still playable for the first timer. But it encouraged the avid links golfer to stay longer and get at least two rounds in. Surely a good and unique marketing ploy for owners with some sales expertise!

In addition, many fairways have been widened and natural waste areas minimized, eliminating the former natural gradual increases in difficulty of your lie, the wider off line the shot. Wide fairways are not unusual on some great links, however there must be commensurate hazards built in as at St Andrews Old Course to require the player to consider lateral as well as longitudinal strategies. There is precious little of this in the new works. Result; its now a more boring driving course fit for "sluggers/bashers".

Furthermore, it seems that the shapers got into their heads that the natural seabed derived contours around many greens were a little too random, so these appear to have been smoothed and graded till the whole effect visually and in response to the bounce of the ball is rather more "formula", predictable and artificial than it once was !! Forget chipping, just putt from up to 20 yards away almost everywhere!!!

Lastly, the worst aspect of the redesign is the elimination or destruction of many fine holes / hole features too numerous to list; but here are just two examples.

The old 15th, "Willie Campbell's Finest" featured a superb driving aspect up a slow ramp full of historic lazy beds to a second shot with the finest view of the sea and a superb natural green and surrounds. Now completely ruined by re-routing and green/surrounds reshaping.

The old 9th, a really unique driving hole, ideally onto a lateral shelf of fairway and testing approach that might allow a clear view or be semi blind, depending on the quality of the drive and which would allow either a high or bounced on approach shot to a large green, replaced entirely by an inland straight hole with a cavern in front of the green, ensuring that only a high lobbed approach shot can be played for your second. YOU CANT BE SERIOUS!!!!!

In short, I am really angry and disappointed about what has been done in the name of progress to what I consider a unique, rare, historic design.

It is true that there have been changes to this course in the past, as there have been at similar ”old fashioned “ courses like Lahinch and Prestwick. But that’s no excuse for the wholesale changes done here.

Can you imagine the outcry at Lahinch if it were ever proposed to bypass the Klondyke and Dell holes there, or at Prestwick if it was proposed that the Cardinal bunker be filled in and the hilly older holes near the clubhouse be bulldozed into "Modern Conformity".

What you have here at the Machrie is something that was wonderfully unique and in this day and age extremely rare, that is now largely lost to modernised blandness, through re-routing / reshaping........ Shame!

Where were the voices of opposition from all the local people, Golfing Press and Architects, from the island and from mainland Britain, who supposedly cared about this iconic old course and used to play it regularly, when these plans emerged?

June 08, 2017


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Colin Hord
August 10, 2017

Played the Machrie in 2007. Went back this week Aug 2017 and while the course is in fantastic condition I think it has lost its charm of old. For me the wholesale redesign has meant a loss some of the classic Machrie holes, punchbowl greens, and blind tee shots have all but gone. The course now features wide fairways and encourages big hitting a feature of "modern" golf. Don't get me wrong I did enjoy the course but it's the loss of the quaint, historic unique links that I miss.

A couple of disclaimers in writing this review: 1. quite a few years ago, one of my daughters attended a wedding on Islay and brought home some souvenirs from the Machrie course for me; I’ve been marking my ball and fixing my ball marks with Machrie logo items ever since, so it’s had a warm place in my heart way before I ever set foot there. And 2. I’ve never played on the pre-renovation Machrie so I had nothing with which to compare my Machrie Golf Course - Photo by reviewer recent golf experience there. We let a 3-ball of locals play through, and they gently groused about the new course, saying they were ‘still getting used to it’.

The newly redesigned Machrie is a wonderful course. I had the pleasure of playing it twice, on May 5th and 6th in brilliant sunny weather. The first day, the wind machine was blowing at max 10—a chilly wind coming straight out of the east blowing right out to sea—and on the second day the wind machine was almost inconceivably cranked up to 11.

The course itself is starkly beautiful: close by the sea, treeless, undulating, scrubbed by the wind; and the layout is imaginative, with many memorable holes. Very few bunkers; the lay of the land presents enough of a Machrie Golf Course - Photo by reviewer challenge. As newcomers, there were many places where we’d have to climb up on dunes or on bluffs to see where the heck we were supposed to go. It’s a course I’d be happy playing again and again, and I would highly recommend a trip there.

Many details are still works in progress: the hotel is still being built, the scorecard was a piece of paper, the clubhouse is a little cabin on the edge of the construction zone, and a course guide would prove a useful tool. But these details are minor ones: the course itself is terrific. Go there; it’s wonderful links golf.

Review of the month May 2017

May 17, 2017


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Just got back from playing the Machrie this weekend. Whilst the changes are not yet completed (only 14 holes open, required to play off matts from fairway, no proshop and no scorecard!), despite this it is still worthy of a 6 ball rating. If the last 4 holes are anything like as good as the first 14 the Machrie is going to rapidly ascend the rankings when completed.

This was my first time playing the course, but judging by some of the previous reviews it would seem like they are certainly an improvement, for example previous reviews describe the 3rd as a poor par 4, whereas now it is a good par 3 along the beach. I would say there is now no weak holes. The drive on the first is fairly uninspiring, but the approach slightly blind to a green set into the dunes is a glimpse of what is to come. The second a par 5 with a dogleg around a burn which runs the whole length of the hole is a real risk reward hole. And the course only gets better, the stretch from the 4th to the 9th is reminiscent of Royal St Georges. Another good par 5 (I think, no card meant not sure, but seemed about 500 yards off the back tee) at the 10th with another burn in play for the drive is followed by a narrow drivable par 4. The course we played finished with the 14th, which was the pick of the par 3s.

Whilst the course is not particularly difficult, I have to say it really was one of the most enjoyable courses I have played for some time (I enjoyed the course as much as I enjoyed the Brandon courses). There are no bunkers on the course and there is also no need for any. Quite a few of the fairways are wide, but that does not take away any of the interest. The course was also in good nick, which made the requirement to play off matts slightly annoying. Highly recommended, especially if you like whiskey!

May 15, 2016


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These are exciting times for anyone involved with the Machrie. With a major course renovation well under way and a new hotel in the pipeline the latest owners have certainly committed to a substantial investment. The MachrieWe were lucky enough to play alongside Robert from Edinburgh Landscaping who is the lead shaper and finisher of the new design. The majority of the old course is the layout we played last week, but it's now possible to get a genuine feel for the bold new routing as most of the fairway shaping is complete and many of the new greens are built. The course will be lengthened from 6300 yards to almost 6800 from the back tees and to 6440 from the yellows as well as being changed from a par 71 to a par 72. A handful of the weaker holes are being altered dramatically or removed completely, many of the greens retaining their current location but most are being altered in some way. Course changes at the MachrieThere are currently six bunkers in play but all will disappear as course architect D J Russell feels that such an undulating and interesting piece of land can defend itself perfectly well without them. The new design cleverly routes many fairways between or around the dunes therefore removing most but not all of the numerous blind shots. There is, without doubt, a real charm to the location of the course with fantastic views over the peat beds to the mountains and across beautiful Laggan Bay, making this is a special place for anyone who has played here. Inevitably there will be much discussion as to the merits of such dramatic alterations to iconic golf holes but I firmly believe that when the dust settles the vast majority will see this as a positive leap forward for golf on Islay. I can't wait to return in a few years time to view the finished article. Brian W
July 14, 2015


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Martin Brown
July 15, 2015
I must endorse Brain Ward’s above review. I travelled and played with Brian on our annual golfing tour. Having Robert the Lead Shaper alongside showing us the changes was a real joy. We walked off the course with a great sense of wanting to come back soon as the changes have bedded in. It is hard to name a course which hasn't had changes made to it, maybe not as bold which The Machrie are undertaking, but courses need to evolve while retaining a sense of their past histories. I can’t help but think in a few years’ time The Machrie will be on everyone’s must play list. It will be on mine. Marty B
This is a teaser of a course. At 6292 yards it is about the same length as Machrihanish. There are a number of short par fours, for example the 1st, 3rd, 8th, 15th and 17th, where the blind shot is not from the tee but rather to the green which may be tucked behind a large dune. In fact, almost every hole has some sort of blind shot except for the2nd, the 9th and the three par threes.

Often the green is on a downslope behind a dune so your ball will tend to run through the back. The nature of the undulating fairways and hidden greens has negated the need for bunkers and as a result there are only ten on the whole course. The light rough at the edge of the fairways is actually quite thick so you will get very little run if you are just slightly off line.

Seven, eight and nine run alongside Lagan Bay on the left and are bordered by lovely dunes along the right. The par three 10th has the Machrie Burn in play on the left. Like the 5th, the wind tends to be from behind so staying on the green is the trick, even though you may only be hitting an eight iron. Not so the par three 12th, ‘New Mount Zion’, which is 174 yards uphill and usually into the wind.

There are some good par fours on the back nine but none better than the 17th. The shot into the sunken and hidden green is a real test of skill. It is far better to be a little long on this hole, otherwise you may have a virtually unplayable lie in the little craters that form natural bunkers. The par four 18th finishes with a blind second over a very high dune in the centre of the fairway, only 35 yards short of the green.

This review is an edited extract from Another Journey through the Links, which has been reproduced with David Worley’s kind permission. The author has exclusively rated for us every Scottish course featured in his book. Another Journey through the Links is available for Australian buyers via www.golfbooks.com.au and through Amazon for buyers from other countries.
April 14, 2015


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I cannot believe anyone would give this course a bad review. The only downpoint of this course is its remoteness. We played a fourball in September and the course was in perfect condition with not a divot or pitch-mark anywhere. This course is a MUST play for any keen golfer and I doubt if you'll find a golf in better condition anywhere.
December 05, 2013


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When you play this course you cant help but have a feeling of nostalgia and romance. My playing partners and I certainly felt this, or maybe it was the Lagavulin and isaly ale!Many will not enjoy the Massive dunes that you need carry off the tee and also when hitting approach shots. An element of chance/luck is involved with these blind shots, however, it adds to the fun and certainly tests your technique. Whilst the setting, atmosphere and history cannot be beaten the course itself is a mixed bag. The first 3 holes were a disappointment and had me worried that most reviews were purely from a nostalgic perspective rather than a golfing one. After that the course comes into its own and has some wonderful holes. 6,7,8, 11,13,14 and 15 are excellent. A couple of bland par 3's and a average closing stretch the only let downs. I played the course on a relatively calm sunny spring day for £35 and easily played to my handicap. On a windy day or for someone who struggles from the tee I can imagine the course would be fairly brutal!The hotel and cottages are closed indefinitely due to a water supply problem and in any case they looked run down and in need of major investment. I was quite surprised with how poor they looked after reading some of the comments on here. 3 of the greens were damaged due to sea water encroaching on the course, however, should be fine for May. The course itself is conditioned well enough just don't expect too much. The greens (bar the damaged ones) were firm, true and consistent.A good course with a number of excellent holes in a setting/location that is hard to match.
April 05, 2012


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Ileach
May 16, 2012
I am surprised at this review. I agree that holes 1, 3 and 10 are bland, but 2 is a fine hole, especially from the back tee ... but probably not a par 5 for a long hitter. 12 is a magnificent, natural, unadorned par 3 on the peak of a crowned hill. 16, 17 and 18 are a terrific finish, albeit all blind approaches. And 17 is unique - I personally dislike it, but it's definitely not "average". Incidentally, the fate of 10, by far the weakest hole on the course, is most unfortunate, because it has a lovely, usually racing, burn off to its left that would a great hazard if the green could be placed behind it. This would transform the hole into a "stunna" of perhaps 200 yards maximum, with plenty of room for forward tees., but I'm told the owner of that adjacent property is not interested in making the necessary land available to the course. The writer is absolutely correct about the hotel buildings ... they have been decrepit for a number of years (there are many issues in addition to the water) and one hopes that the new owners can get it all sorted out and return the Hotel to its former glory (although that was before I was born, and that wasn't yesterday!). I wish them the best of luck, and trust they can succeed.
mike
September 19, 2012
Playing it on Saturday - cant wait these reviews have realy whetted my appetite - Sunday Mach Dunes - Monday Machrihanish I must have done something good !
The Laddie
October 03, 2012
Another summer spent on Islay, playing The Machrie perhaps 20 times. It remains a wonderful experience, and although the facilities are extremely limited due to the hotel's closure, the course is in great shape, fully recovered from the winter damage mentioned in the above comment. In fact it's much more "playable" than it ever has been in my memory. The new owners have funded the purchase of modern maintenance equipment, which has permitted the staff to cut back quite substantially the rough so that the fairways are much wider than they used to be. For all but the sadists among us that is a great step forward, because the one criticism of The Machrie that mattered was that the fairways were too narrow and the rough almost inpenetrable, resulting in far too much time spent looking for, and not finding, balls that really weren't all that much off line. Consequently play could be slow. There are also changes in process to re-align the second hole, and completely re-route the tenth and eleventh holes, which will add further to the course's attraction. And recent news is that it looks like the water problems can be resolved, and when that is done, the way is clear to renovate the hotel. Probably 2 or 3 years work, but it all augurs well for this iconic course. Incidentally: why is it rated #2 in A&B? It's streets better than Machrahanish.
This course epitomises Scottish golf at it's best.Wonderful vistas, friendly people, whisky and wind!If you want to experience all the best of Scotland in one place go to the Machrie and Islay.John
January 05, 2011


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I am an old man now and where I live the summer sun stings and the warm wet wind drains energy as blotting paper draws ink. I am hot, sticky and tired. The dog days draw close. I shall doze. No! I will not let this listless malaise consume me. It is time. Time to pack my bag. Time to go to Islay. The greenness. The stiff cool breeze; maybe rain, but do I care? Or even a glorious sun, high in the infinite sky, but bereft of tropical sear. The links beckon come hither. The Machrie. My Innisfree. Is there another golf course on this planet that offers you, if you wish to partake, such remoteness, such solitude, such a magical aura, such a sense of the insignificance of man in the scope of the universe? Dornoch, perhaps, wonderful, but possibly a little too pretty? A little cramped in comparison? A little yellow at times? Bandon Dunes? Awe-inspiring, but unquestionably placed there by man. The Machrie persuades us that it fell to earth, untouched by hand: such is its naturalness, its appropriateness. What a course to play.

The ingénue first and tenth holes gently and with little drama seduce you into the front and back nines, coaxing you into two sequences of natural golf holes, each carving pathways of immaculate links turf through deeply grassed dunes to beautifully presented greens. There are few bunkers, but each one is exactly where you wouldn’t want it to be. From a golfing perspective the progressions from the 4th to the 9th and from the 11th to the 18th are breathtaking; indeed the latter is simply brilliant. The views from almost every vantage point on the course across the island’s sea lochs and hills are stunning and unforgettable at all times; on a fine day they are sublime. Now the golfer who is not given to raising his eyes from his tee might grumble that the course is quite short, that he wasn’t able to capitalise on his length, that he lost his ball every time it went in the rough, and that there were a lot of blind shots (far too many I hear him say). All true. The Machrie would never be built today. But bear in mind that it wasn’t built at all; it’s been teased out of the existing land, great artists seeing the shapes that lay buried in the wild grasses.

Nostalgia plays its part, as at my years it must. In a warm glow I see the friends of my youth, many already gone, as we battled against each other and a raging gale, frozen and soaked to the skin; at other times in high June sunshine we managed four rounds in a day … the course was a little less demanding to walk back then. The long strolls(!) with the girls on the beach at Laggan Bay – jump over the fence at 3, 8 or 9 now – when my parents happily believed I was on the course perfecting my game. I was in a way. Golden recollections. Long, long ago. And so on to university, responsibility and real life. I was well prepared for the last. The Machrie had taught me to take the bad breaks with equanimity, the good ones with quiet pleasure, and to treat all mankind as equals, as they are, and do, at The Machrie. The Machrie. I shall arise and go now.
June 03, 2010


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mppj
June 03, 2010
Bravo my friend,bravo.A fantastic review
dan
June 10, 2010
I smiled all the way through your review, thank you for your redolent look back - "Im Abendrot" should have been playing in the background ! I have played The Machrie just the once but can't wait to go back, it is to date my singularly perfect golfing experience.
Ah the Machrie… I yearned to play here since the course was first ranked in 2000. After nine years waiting and a colourful pilgrimage from the south of England, which culminated in a rather protracted ferry crossing, we finally arrived on the Hebridean island of Islay. Was it worth the effort? Oh yes it was and it’s a pilgrimage that I thoroughly recommend. The course will not appeal to everyone because there are many blind drives, some of which feature fearsome, long and high carries over towering dunes, additionally there are numerous blind approach shots which many will not like. I lost my fair share of balls at the Machrie, if you can’t see where your ball lands in this terrain then you are in the lap of the gods. Keeping the ball in play here is easier said than done. Having said all of this, there is something very special about the land and it has a humbling, calming aura which made me feel good from within. Most designers would never consider trying to replicate the Machrie, as it goes totally against the modern grain, but somehow it works perfectly here on Islay and purist architect David McLay Kidd has created Machrihanish Dunes back on the mainland which competes with the Machrie in the blind-shot stakes. When I played the trio of Mach courses on a recent trip, I found the Machrie to be the best conditioned and am hard pressed to decide which of the three courses I prefer. If you are travelling to this remote outpost I suggest you take your time and play them all.
November 07, 2009


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dan
March 19, 2010
Funnily enough, my 6 ball review further down was just before playing Machrihanish Dunes - we moved from Islay to Arran so also played Shiskine which is in the same league of jaw droppingly scenic natural, quirky links golf. Mach Dunes is like a newer, longer Machrie. Can't be too fulsome in my praise for both of them, golf in Scotland is in safe hands ! Whether by island hopper or ferry, The Machrie and Mach Dunes may be somewhat inaccessible but you will wonder why you made a fuss once you have played them. Magical.